Rain Showers and Happy Hours

Trip Start Jul 16, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Sunday, June 16, 2013

So our first comfortable and safe bus journey in Cambodia amazingly dropped us right outside the guesthouse that we had booked for our stay. This is where our luck ran out.  We checked into our pre-booked river view room to find it was yet again like one of the hotel rooms you see on banged up abroad.  It was barely big enough to fit the bed, had no window just strange wooden slatted shutters which had a constant flow of mosquitos who were furiously sucking our blood and increasing our chances of getting malaria and dengue fever.  We checked our booking and sure enough we had booked a huge room with a window with a view over the river so we headed down to reception to see what had happened to our room.

It seems that the hotel had double booked and just tried their luck at giving us an $8 room for the $30 we had paid, this was not going to cut it.  Fortunately Agoda offer a full refund if the room you have booked is unavailable, what they don't offer is an easy way to contact them if you don’t have a phone that allows international calls!  So after much toing and froing we finally ended up in an internet café and booted a sad looking kid off of the PC he was using to watch a film so we could call Agoda.  They were less than helpful and apologetic, but eventually we had confirmation that we would get a refund and we were free to find somewhere else to stay.  So at 8pm we found ourselves in the rain walking the streets of Kampot looking for a room.  We saw a really nice looking hotel and thought we would try our luck we didn’t get a room at the nice shiny hotel but we did make a new friend.  It is funny how things go when you are travelling the strangest chance encounters can lead to new friendships.  As much as Donna at the Java Bleu wanted to help us it is was too pricy but she kindly rang a hostel round the corner for us and they had a room, we promised Donna that we would leave her a review on Trip Advisor and went on our way to The Magic Sponge. 

The Magic Sponge certainly was a little bit magic.  We were meant to stay in Kampot for just 3 days but as with everyone we spoke to we extended our stay and eventually managed to drag ourselves away a week later.  The magic sponge was just a perfect little retreat from the rain and the start of the monsoon season.  With rooms at just $10 a night, it had good food, good movies, mini golf, the cheapest happy hour beer I have ever know, the nicest staff and even a great selection of guests.  In our 7 days here we made some great friends over non-stop movie marathons and cheap beer.  The wonderful Laura and Hadley left us inspired to move to Taiwan to be teachers and the fantastic Charlie and Dan introduced us to the world of HelpX and housesitting.

Kampot is a funny little town, it really is tiny and there is not a lot here, but it has become the expat central of Cambodia.  The best thing about this is that all the expats have set up restaurants and for us Kampot became the culinary centre of Cambodia.  From perfect German Wurst to Pizza freshly made by the most Italian man I have ever met outside of Italy to the infamous Ribs at the Rusty keyhole, the food in Kampot was amazing.  Jacket potatoes with proper cheddar cheese, beans on toast and even vinegar for chips, Kampot was my food heaven, it is surprising we left at all.

We took a chance that the rain my stop for us if we booked a tour and amazingly we got lucky, we booked the one day Bokor Hill tour which took us up into Bokor National Park with its amazing views over Kampot.  Bokor Hill is now the home to a ghost town from the French Colonial Times.  In the 1920’s construction began for a town where French Colonial settlers could seek respite from the heat and humidity of the city.  It was abandoned in the 1940’s and became a strong hold of the Khmer Rouge until the 1990’s.  Now a huge brand new casino and hotel has opened up on Bokor Hill but the old colonial ghost town still seems to draw more tourists.

En-route up the Hill we stopped at a viewpoint to take some photos of Kampot and the salt plains below.  On our tour we had a few other people with us, a group of lads from the UK and Oz and an English couple with their American friend.  It quickly became apparent that our American friend was going to be a pain the bottom when she whipped out her note book and started to take notes about everything the guide said. Perhaps she hasn’t discovered Wikipedia like the rest of us?!  Whilst Tim and I were rolling our eyes at the inane questions coming from our American friend we noticed that one of the English lads had wondered off from the group. The next second he was bend over double leaving his breakfast on Bokor Hill, now is not the time you want food poisoning.  He straightened himself up and we got back on the road to our first stop the Former Kings Residence.  If you were doing this tour on a moped the chances are you would miss this this stop as it pretty much looks like an old derelict barn. The grandeur has all been stripped and pilfered over the years leaving just a shell of a building with a rather nice view and some rather interesting graffiti…..

Opposite the Kings Residence is a pagoda with a rather huge Buddha with a lot of people leaving offerings and praying, we had a very brief stop at the pagoda as the wind was picking up and we feared we may be blown back down the hill.

Back in the mini bus and onwards to our next stop with our green looking friend and the non stop American talker…

The remnants of the old French town are pretty cool, we stopped at the old church which again was covered in graffiti and had our lunch at the top of the hill with the most fantastic view over the jungle and town below.  Apparently there are still tigers and bears living wild in the jungle so I was pretty pleased to be at the top of the hill, even if we were holding on for dear life as the wind picked up again.

Whilst we all enjoyed our lunch our sick friend spent the time bent over double leaving yet more of his stomach lining on Bokor Hill, oh how I feel his pain.  I think I would have just had to curl up and spend the night out in wild.  As we were getting into the mini van, our American friend managed to ask the most inane question I have ever heard… after spending a good 20 minutes walking around the graffiti covered church, she asked our guide what the Khmer graffiti said.  Just to make it even more annoying she pronounced Khmer, Ka-My meaning the poor guide had no idea what she was going on about.  By now everyone was on their last nerve and she received an ear bashing from one of the sick Brits friends, that the graffiti probably said 'I was ere’.  Sadly it had little effect and she carried on regardless.

The main attraction of the old Ghost town is the old Casino, which is now under a massive restoration project, but still looks pretty decrepit and most haunting especially when the fog appears from nowhere and the whole building practically vanishes.  We went to the top of the building and had a view of…. Fog!

Our last stop of the day was to the waterfalls on Bokor Hill, unsurprisingly given the amount of rain that had fallen over the last fortnight the waterfall was cascading spectacularly and I did look at our guide like he had two heads when we showed me a crazy path on wet rocks on the edge of a 30 meter drop to walk along…. Um no thanks.

So Bokor Hill tour done it was time to head back to Kampot for the afternoon boat trip.  But as much as we were all feeling the pain of the poor sick lad the American seemingly didn’t give a damn about getting him home and instead demanded that the driver pull over so she could buy some Durian.  For anyone who doesn’t know Durian is a fruit from hell which is loved all over Asia and is banned on most forms of transport and in hotes due to the terrible smell which is just awful.  It is like sweet sickly creamy smell that you can’t really describe.  Needless to say, if you are in a minibus and have food poisoning this is not an odour that you want around you, yet we all had to point out to our friend that she should keep it wrapped until she got to her hotel out of respect to all of us!?

So we made it, we said our goodbyes and rearranged to meet whoever was up for the next part of the trip at the boat.  Needless to say the boys didn’t make it, sadly the American did….

So the boat trip in itself was largely unexciting.  It was a wooden boat with a very loud engine going down the Kampung Bye River, there were fishing boats and little riverside resorts but nothing much noteworthy, until we picked up two extra guests…

Having spent the whole day on the tour together we didn’t expect any additions to the group but welcomed the newcomers who seemed to have come more prepared than us with a water melon, mango, beer and water.  The boat is only 30 minutes each way so not much time for a picnic, but each to their own.  As it turned out the new comers from Croatia had bought a BBQ and boat tour package for $20 each and had been told that the BBQ was not possible (and had been given fruit as a replacement?!) because of the rain.  We had to sadly inform them that we had all spent $10 each and had been on an all day tour so they might want to go back to tour operator.  It certainly made the trip more enjoyable for us, heh heh.  Half way along the river our American friend who had been meditating at the front of the boat stumbled down the boat to the driver.  Seemingly she needed a bathroom stop, the look on her face when the boat pulled over the bank was priceless, I think she expected to be carried so as not to get her feet wet.  We were delivered back to Kampot well before the sun set but all parted ways and watched as our Croatian friend headed off to get his money back.

We didn’t think much more about this trip until we were having dinner with some of our new friends and the toilet stop on the river came up in conversation, amazingly our friends had met Croatian Andy (as we liked to call him) and he had told them the same story…this gets better, they had the second part of the story about the refund.  Croatian Andy went to see the guy who he had bought the tour from, who just happened to be a Vietnamese Midget, he told him that he wanted a refund and that he was going to put a bad review on Trip Advisor.  As Andy had his phone poised to take a photo for the review the Vietnamese Midget lost it and smacked Andy in the face with a stapler,,,, needless to say he immediately regretted this move and Andy left with a full refund, a split lip and a good story.

So after our crazy boat ride we managed to sign ourselves up for a second one, the lovely Donna who we had met the night we arrived had friends visiting and planned another boat trip, this one was significantly better organised.  For one we had beer and crisps and for two we had Bart the Rastafarian Belgian who has been boating the river for the last 7 years at the helm.  There was one small problem, Donna had forgotten to tell us that we would be swimming in the river… after all the hours of watching River Monsters on Animal Planet this didn’t appeal at all but after a few beers and in the hot afternoon sun there was no stopping us, we stripped down to our undies and in we got.  After our swim we were taken down some of the back streams and really did get to see some of the beauty of the river that is hidden from the usual tourists.  Thanks for inviting us on your day trip Donna!  We did have one amazing revelation on this boat tour, Donna actually offered us both jobs at the Java Bleu hotel, working reception/bar etc to bring a bit of life into the hotel.  Sadly it didn’t work with our plans, but what a compliment!

So after a few more days of relaxing and drinking beer, the weather eased and we planned another trip, this time to the infamous Salt plains and Pepper farms and to the seaside town of Kep.  As usual we are out of season, so the salt plains are just sandy wet fields and the pepper was all been harvested save for a few bunches of pepper corns which have survived, but thankfully the salt that had been harvested was in the process of being bagged and transferred from the massive storage sheds so we got an inside tour, how these tiny little men were carrying 50kg bags on their shoulders was beyond me?!  We had a brief stop in the Phnom Chhnork Cave but this was not really very exciting, the guide wanted us to scramble through some small hole to get through to another cave but I opted to walk back around and admire the bats on the ceiling instead.

So we set off to Kep, the seaside town near Kampot famed for its seafood, specifically Kep Crab.  It was pretty cool from the restaurant to see the chef head out to the fridge to collect the crab that had been ordered.  The ‘fridge’ being a pot in the sea.  Kep was pretty but the sea was still super rough from the storm and I was not looking forward to the last stop of the trip a boat over to the beautiful Rabbit Island.  We got our boat tickets and headed to the boats and to our surprise there were no boatmen at the harbour.  This is pretty much unheard of in asia, there are always boatmen regardless of the weather.  Our guide who had brough his wife and baby with him for the day told us that he wasn’t going to take his wife and baby on the boat as it was too rough, decision made for me.  Sadly the couple on the tour with us were a bit more keen and spent the next 30 minutes looking at each other trying to decide whether to go or not.  Thankfully the eventual decision was that we would all go back to Kampot, phew.

So our time in Kampot was drawing to a close, we had had a fantastic break from the reality of travelling with a great little base to stay, amazing food and some great new friends thrown in as well.  We played mini golf, and I took the crown as the master, we went to a pub quiz and considering the fact that the Egg heads would have struggled we held our own pretty well, well I say that, we didn’t come last and that’s what counts by my quiz standards!

Next stop Kratie for a final visit to the Mekong River and to see if we can find the dolphins.
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